Effective Marketing In The Wake Of Budget Cuts

Marc van Bree has been on a tear lately with a series of really terrific blog posts that provide a substantial amount of nuts and bolts style information and his latest offering from 7/23/2012 continues the trend. Titled Marketing the arts when your budget gets cut, the post recounts his time as the Austin Lyric Opera’s Director of Marketing and how he managed to increase the organization’s return on marketing by 68 percent in the wake of a number of budget challenges.

piggy bank woesThere’s no sugar coating here; instead, you can benefit from the sort of info needed to get your hands dirty and start using his experiences to help identify opportunities capable of making similar progress at your own organization.

In particular, be sure to not to skim or you might miss the section where van Bree examines the pros and cons of daily deal style promotions versus substantial, but targeted, reductions in ticket prices. Likewise, the content on how to determine which advertising channels to pursue when there fewer dollars to spend is excellent.

[ilink url=”http://mcmvanbree.com/dutchperspective/marketing-the-arts-when-your-budget-gets-cut”]Read the article[/ilink]

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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0 thoughts on “Effective Marketing In The Wake Of Budget Cuts”

  1. There are elements to van Bree’s post that are extremely instructive and important. His remarks about price point and total audience experience are spot on. An artist’s best efforts are too often spoiled by elements over which s/he has no control: a rude usher, an inefficient box office, horrible parking, etc. (Often times an organization’s management has little control over these variables. Fortunately, it seems that many people can overlook these annoyances and enjoy the concerts.) I also couldn’t agree more about the effect of ticket prices ($99 for nosebleed? I got one just reading that.) and the use of group discount sites. (I’d probably want a Groupon if I had to pay $200 for two upper balc seats.)

    However, I’m having some trouble with the implication that “traditional repertoire” is a primary factor in ALO’s higher subscriptions and attendance. (To be fair, he stated that this decision, presumably by the board or artistic staff, impacted his marketing, but later makes the supposition that this decision was a decisive factor in the increase.) You can’t make a claim like that and dismiss any discussion by saying “we can debate this until we’re blue in the face.” In looking at the past several years’ productions, I wouldn’t have called the ALO’s programming particularly adventurous. Rigoletto, Carmen, Fledermaus, Boheme, Traviata, Italian in Algiers,… all “war horses.” There were some new or unfamiliar operas mixed in, (Dead Man Walking in 02-03, Flight last season), but they weren’t programming Powder Her Face, Doctor Atomic, and Tania in the same season.

    I would argue that the combination of realistic price points and focused marketing to the appropriate audiences made the pudding edible. To eschew new or unfamiliar works for marketing purposes makes for a blander palate. I really start to worry when artistic decisions are based largely on what is the most marketable.

    • Adam, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      I certainly didn’t mean to overstate the effect of the traditional repertoire. If anything, it would make me look better to downplay the effect as that was the one area out of my control. 🙂

      I want to state very clearly that artistic decisions should never be based on what is most marketable. Arts organizations should never be market-driven organizations. They must always be product-driven. Otherwise, you end up with things like Il Divo and Andre Rieu.

      Having said that, there needs to be an economic reality in your planning. At the ALO, audiences had shrunk to such a level that it couldn’t support unfamiliar works. It could hardly support even blockbuster repertoire. So let’s build back the audience it takes to support more adventurous programming. And realize that with just three productions in a season, having just one non-traditional opera can impact attendance.

      You of course can also never sustain season after season of Top 10 operas. For the situation the ALO found itself in, the traditional repertoire was the only option to survive in the short term. For them to survive in the long term, they need to mix in exciting new programming. I wasn’t there for it, but from what I saw Dead Man Walking was a huge success and an offbeat, localized, Austin version of The Bat was a huge success.

      So it’s never as black and white as traditional vs. non-traditional. In this case, it was the right decision, the only decision. For any other organization, or in any other year or scenario, it might not have been.

      Perhaps it all comes down to the whole “new model” for classical music organizations. While models can be helpful, in the end they’re just that, models. And that’s also why I don’t believe the arts are in crisis (not any more than any other business). Each organization is unique, and serves a unique purpose.

      You have to find your own success. Lots of organizations are doing it. But what works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for another.

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